A group of Clemson University civil engineering students stepped outside the classroom recently for some hands-on learning in underground construction thanks to a neighbor who happens to be an expert in the field.
Employees of McLaughlin Group Inc., a leading manufacturer of trenchless construction equipment, gave the students a demonstration in identifying and marking underground utilities, vacuum excavation and the use of pneumatic boring tools.
And they did it on the property of McLaughlin Vice President Jeff Wage, who lives about 15 miles from the South Carolina school. The company’s headquarters is only 30 miles from Clemson.
“It gave the students real-world experience,” said Wage. “They were able to see equipment run. They were able to speak with a global manufacturer and ask technical questions. The opportunity to see the things they’ve studied in the classroom in an actual setting is very valuable.”
Eleven students from a graduate-level underground construction course participated in the trip to Wage’s 20-acre property. They started by learning the importance of calling 811 before digging. The nationwide service takes information from anyone who is planning underground work — from professionals to do-it-yourselfers — and notifies local utility companies, who will come out and mark underground lines, pipes and cables.
Next, the students saw a utility locator in action and found several utilities on the property. A Vermeer VX50 vacuum excavator by McLaughlin also was used to locate utilities, a process known as potholing, and to verify their depth. The students learned how vacuum excavation works and in what scenarios air and water would be suitable for the work.
Finally, the students saw a demonstration of the Vermeer Hole Hammer pneumatic piercing tool. Although pneumatic boring has been used for decades, it is still the most prevalent way to perform short bores, such as from a curb to a home.
Such out-of-class demonstrations bridge the gap between university education and industry needs according to Kalyan Piratla, the civil engineering professor who teaches underground construction at Clemson University.
“Research has proved that students who are taught using hands-on methods better retain and retrieve information than those who are not,” said Piratla.
McLaughlin also had some fun with the color scheme of its equipment. The boring tools are typically black, but the two brought to the demonstration were painted orange in a nod to Clemson’s school colors.
“The guys who build the boring tools were excited to participate in the event,” said Wage.
This was the second year in a row McLaughlin offered instruction to Clemson University engineering students. Last year’s session was about auger boring. Wage said he would like it to be an annual occurrence.
For more information on McLaughlin products and services, visit www.mclaughlinunderground.com.